Sundance Review: “Knock Down The House”

It was a packed house at the Rose Wagner Theatre for Robin Lears’ documentary. “Knock Down the House” follows three women from varying backgrounds, regions, and cultures. The crowd certainly seemed ready for a screening of a progressive film that stands in defiance of what Washington and certainly Utah leadership represents: the status quo of white, old guys making laws that affect families, paychecks, opportunity, foreign policy, tax law, health law, health insurance, race, religion, and on and on. Those are all those issues that have a place in the campaigns featured here but “Knock Down the House” is about taking on the system and to do that you have to get your foot in the door.

Admittedly, there seemed to be a majority of women in attendance by an eyeball’s count in the theatre and while it’s great to assume a film with a message of “you can change things” might be firing up a Democratic base, you can’t assume everyone, regardless of gender, is of that base. It would take the cheers of the audience to give a fly on the wall that impression.

“Knock Down the House” follows Cori Bush, a nurse and pastor, running for the House in Mousurri. She decided to run after the police shot an unarmed black man in her neighborhood. Paula Jean Swearengin from West Virginia, a coal miner’s daughter, was tired of seeing her community suffer in economic despair. Amy Vilela from Nevada wants health care reform. And finally, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a bartender from the Bronx who…well, we all know how that ended up.

While the film could be criticized as “Democratic propaganda”, the contrasting lives of these women and their fight are what provide inspiration and forward momentum for the film. “Knock Down the House” focuses on the “why” more than the “how.” That is where the real message lies – the principals these women are fighting for. Despite having the demands of a family, little money, a small staff, and maybe even a lack of media savvy was not an and obstacle that kept them from running. Everyone has to come from somewhere. Though Ocasio-Cortez is the only candidate in this feature to make it through the primaries and onto the national stage, I left the theatre feeling that a film like this makes democracy feel a little more democratic and therefore attainable for anyone who seriously wants to get involved.

Update: “Knock Down the House” went on to win the U.S. Documentary Audience Award and the Festival Favorite Award.

2nd update: Here’s the official Netflix trailer.

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